Massive public pressure forced the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to abruptly delay action last week on major slashes in human services programs. The slashes, contained in a budget amendment, would have increased mandatory cuts from $35 billion to $50 billion in health care, Medicaid, energy assistance, food stamps, student loans and child care, while maintaining $70 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) admitted that he didn’t have the votes for the shocking proposal to fund Katrina relief by eliminating vital social programs. The proposal is in direct opposition to polls showing a majority of Americans oppose the cuts and tax giveaways.

However, the Republican leadership is stepping up its offensive, threatening to increase the cuts to $66 billion. If Democrats hold solid in their opposition and more than 13 Republicans refuse to vote in favor of the bill, it will be blocked again this week.

The dramatic turnaround came as 19 labor, civil rights and women’s organizations spearheaded by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, AFL-CIO) announced the formation of the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities.

Rollout events are being held in 35 states, targeting 80 members of Congress. Outraged Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees who are members of AFSCME will be joined by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for a Capitol Hill press conference. delivered 30,000 phone calls and 130,000 personal letters to Congress as part of a “virtual march” on Washington protesting the cuts last week. The group expects members will send 10,000 letters to the editors of newspapers across the country.

“It’s shameful that lawmakers would talk about more tax breaks for the wealthy and slashing programs for vulnerable Americans in the same breath,” said Nancy Duff Campbell of the National Women’s Law Center and the Fair Taxes for All Coalition, both of which joined the Emergency Campaign.

On Oct. 24, the National Council of Churches issued a stinging indictment of the post-Katrina cuts. “This is not the time for the budget reconciliation process to create greater hardships for those who are already experiencing great suffering. To do so is not only unjust, it is a sin,” said spokesman Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr.